How to Read Beauty Product Labels

"How to Read Beauty Product Labels" was first reported on Yahoo and I thought this information is worth repeating.  This post was not written by or about me or my views. The points where I have added my two cents are in this same shade of purple, sometimes listed as Editor's note. In case you missed the original post, here it is:

I use the Garnier Fructis Body Boost Fortifying Shampoo. The bottle says that it’s for “fine or flat hair” and “weightlessly boosts for all-day volume.” Cosmetics expert Paula Begoun wants to talk about false information. “Garnier's Body Boost Fortifying Shampoo has lots of window-dressing wording that looks good on the label but does nothing for your hair.  Labeled for Fine/Limp hair, the shampoo does a great job of cleansing all hair and scalp types with minimal risk of buildup.”

So why does Garnier market it otherwise? In short, because they can – which is exactly why you should never buy a personal care product based on a promise on its packaging.

Unlike medications, these products are not approved by the FDA. It’s shocking, I know – we apply them to a vital organ (our skin) on a daily basis – but it’s true.

As the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics puts it…
The FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors has regulatory jurisdiction over cosmetics and personal care products and most people assume the FDA regulates these products in the same way it does food and drugs to assure safety.  In fact, cosmetics are one of the least regulated consumer products on the market today.  In other words, the FDA does not police cosmetic products or their ingredients. The only thing it really has any say in, is certain parts of cosmetic products’ labels.

If you don’t want to waste your money on products that make empty promises, learn which parts of product labels are regulated by the FDA.  There’s no other way to know which words on personal care product labels are credible and which could be nonsense.

FDA regulations only address the following four items…

Ingredients: The Code of Federal Regulations (Section 701.3) requires cosmetics packaging to “bear a declaration of the name of each ingredient in descending order of predominance.”  As seemingly useless as ingredients with unpronounceable names may seem, this is about as trustworthy as a cosmetics product’s label gets. “The ingredient list is the only part of the product’s copy that you can and should rely on,” says Paula Begoun. “It’s true that knowing how to decipher an ingredient list is difficult, but it is a far more reliable source of information than the product’s description and claims.” [Canadian beauties: For you, this went into effect in 2006]

My bottle of 100% Pure Purity Hydrating Tonique

Identity:  The Code of Federal Regulations (Section 701.11) also requires packaging to “bear as one of its principal features a statement of the identity of the commodity.” In other words, packaging must communicate the intended use of the product it contains, either by a common name (example: “shampoo”), a “descriptive” or “fanciful” name (example, “Body Boost Fortifying Shampoo”), or an illustration.

Quantity:  Section 701.13 requires packaging to “bear a declaration of the net quantity of contents.” The shampoo, for example, contains 25.4 fluid ounces, indicated on the bottle as “25.4 FL OZ (750ml).”

Manufacturer:  Section 701.12 requires packaging to “specify conspicuously the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor.” Garnier, LLC, of New York City makes the shampoo.

Can anything else be done?  Technically, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act says manufacturers shouldn’t sell misbranded cosmetics. [Editor's note: DUH!]  This means they can’t omit required information [The four items just covered] from product labels or use labeling that is “false or misleading.”

The thing is, false or misleading labeling is hard to prove. For example, Garnier Fructis Body Boost Fortifying Shampoo doesn’t add volume to hair, but the FDA has no definition of the word “volume” that would allow it to prove otherwise. So words like “volumizing” are marketing jargon, not scientific claims.

As Dr. Linda Katz, director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, told the New York Times in 2007, the FDA has never imposed standard definitions for marketing terms used on cosmetic products, which leaves manufacturers free to apply them to products as they choose.

The shocking example of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo is another illustration of this problem. In 2009, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reported that the well-known claim that it is “as gentle to the eyes as pure water” just doesn’t measure up. Unfortunately, there are no legal standards that require products with such marketing claims to contain the safest ingredients available.

Test results for Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, conducted by an independent lab for the “No More Toxic Tub” report, found levels of formaldehyde (200 and 210 ppm) that may be enough to trigger skin reactions in especially-sensitive people. The formaldehyde in Johnson’s Baby Shampoo is likely a byproduct from the preservative Quaternium-15, which is used in many bath products, yet is known to sensitize skin.

So, a shopper’s best and only defense against this problem is herself or himself:  Educate yourself: Learn which Ingredients are in your favorite products, read reviews online [Like the ones you find on this blog!] and ask friends and family about the products they use.  And the ones they no longer use.

Watch out for the worst offenders: The following three claims commonly seen on cosmetics deserve special attention. Due to the FDA’s loose oversight, they’re no less bogus than any other product claim, but more women fall for them and therefore waste money on them.

Natural: First, understand that the word “natural” can legitimately be applied to any cosmetics ingredient and therefore doesn’t make a product unique.  Even gasoline byproducts like petrolatum and mineral oil can be considered natural because gasoline starts out as crude oil that’s naturally produced by Mother Nature. “Synthetic ingredients are derived from many sources, but they all start as natural because everything comes from our environment,” says cosmetics expert Paula Begoun. “Nothing is created via alchemy.”

Second, understand that natural isn’t always better. “Consumers should not necessarily assume that an ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ ingredient or product would possess greater inherent safety than another chemically identical version of the same ingredient,” Dr. Katz said. “In fact, ‘natural’ ingredients may be harder to preserve against microbial contamination and growth than synthetic raw materials.” The best conditioners on the market contain silicone, which leaves your hair smooth and silky but is completely unnatural.

See when it's time to toss your makeup and skincare here.

Hypoallergenic: Even if you have sensitive skin, products labeled “hypoallergenic” are a waste of money. “‘Hypoallergenic’ is little more than a nonsense word,” warns Begoun. “Given that there are no regulations governing this supposed category that was made up by the cosmetics industry, there are plenty of products labeled ‘hypoallergenic’ that contain problematic ingredients and that could indeed trigger allergic reactions. The word ‘hypoallergenic’ gives you no better understanding of what you are or aren’t putting on your skin.”

    [It was explained to me during my time with Clinique, that “hypoallergenic” basically means that no known allergens were used creating the product. It also indicates that the products are not tested against possible reaction(s). Meaning you could have reaction not that you will.]

Studies: The back of the bottle of the shampoo promises “up to 70% more volume” and that it’s “proven to perform” based on “a consumer test.” “There are lots of ways to use pseudoscience to create proof for a claim that, in reality, has very little to do with science and everything to do with marketing,” explains Begoun.


Images: amazon, google
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